February 9, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) makes a save during the second period against the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Sticks Versus Cats, Round 2: Capitals at Panthers Preview

Seeing as they’re still in last place in the NHL standings, there aren’t too many teams who want revenge against the 2013 Washington Capitals. Actually, there’s probably only one, and that happens to be tonight’s opponent, the Florida Panthers.

Everything went so right for the Caps in their 5-0 thrashing of the Panthers last Saturday that it was almost like watching a different squad from the one that took the ice for the first 11 games. This most recent version had abundant even strength scoring, confident goaltending and overall disciplined play, none of which were regular elements of Washington’s game over the first few weeks of the season.

Was it a mirage or a sign of things to come? Tonight might be the first step toward figuring out an answer, especially since the Panthers won’t be lacking for motivation and the Capitals have yet to win on the road. Brian Campbell has said Florida needs to give itself a chance to win games, so you have to figure the cats will come out flying around in the first period.

Ex-Capitals could certainly play a part in any Panthers payback. Tomas Fleischmann leads the team in scoring with nine points in 11 games. Jose Theodore was yanked from Saturday’s game and hasn’t played great, but backup Scott Clemmensen has been even worse. Still, it appears Clemmensen will be the man between the pipes for Florida.

Braden Holtby will get his second straight start after picking up his fourth career shutout last time out. It says something about his poor start to the season that his blanking of the Panthers still only improved him to a 3.87 GAA and .879 save percentage, but he has the hot hand. History also speaks to this choice: Holtby has won his only two starts against the Panthers, while Michal Neuvirth has picked up an ‘L’ in his last three trips to South Florida.

On the injury front, Marcus Johansson did not make the trip and is said to be day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Brooks Laich, who Caps fans would desperately like to see back in action, is with the team, but there’s still no word on when he might suit up.

The Caps have completed the first quarter of the season without winning back-to-back games. It’s high time that changed, but they’re going to need to do all the same good things they did on Sunday while also withstanding a more determined effort from the Panthers. If they can, we’ll soon be talking about something we haven’t mentioned yet this year: a winning streak.

Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers

Start time: 7:30 pm EST

TV: Comcast SportsNet DC (Capitals), Fox Sports Florida (Panthers)


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Tags: Braden Holtby Brooks Laich Florida Panthers Washington Capitals

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